Praising Juan Pierre

Marcus Hayes wrote a column recently praising the production of Juan Pierre while at the same time castigating proponents of Sabermetrics for having doubted him. I’m not hyperlinking to the article because I don’t want to reward him with even more pageviews than I already sent his way after openly mocking the piece yesterday on Twitter. Judging by the quotes in Hayes’ piece, even Pierre himself seemed a bit under-appreciated by the numbers crowd, praising his own ability to lay down bunts and go first-to-third.

The whole argument is mischaracterized, however. Yes, Saberists were less-than-enthusiastic about Pierre’s acquisition of the starting left field job with the Phillies, but for good reason: he had finished the previous two seasons — aged 32 and 33 — with a .657 OPS, more than 20 percent worse than the league average. In 2011, he stole only 27 bases in 44 attempts (61%). And overall, the most generous thing you can say about his defense is that it is average at best if you pay absolutely no attention to his noodle arm. In the previous four seasons, he had averaged just over one win above replacement (fWAR), right between a replacement-level player and an average player.

Statistically, the Phillies were much more likely to get the 2010-11 version of Pierre (79 OPS+) than the ’09 version (105 OPS+). Somehow, though, the Phillies got lucky and Pierre is having one of the best years of his career. He currently has a 101 OPS+ thanks to a .316 batting average. He has also been the team’s best base runner, stealing 21 bags in 25 attempts (84%) and producing 2.3 base running runs, per Baseball Prospectus. Pierre’s .337 wOBA is a few ticks above the NL average for left fielders at .331, when it was just .303 in the previous two years. Hayes cites Pierre’s 1.6 WAR (rWAR) but mistakenly categorizes it as poor. It actually puts him on pace for about 3.0, which is quite good.

The best part is that the Phillies are getting this highly-aberrant production from Pierre for the low, low cost of $800,000. They just got done with Raul Ibanez‘s three-year, $31.5 million contract in which he posted a 101 OPS+. Basically, the Phillies are getting the same production out of Pierre as they did with Ibanez for about one-tenth of the cost and with significantly less risk.

There isn’t too much else to say about Pierre’s season. Sure, the bunt hits are nice, but they are insignificant in number (10) and in impact, especially when counteracted by the sacrifice bunts with which he is 6-for-12, the second-lowest success rate among those with at least eight attempts. As for the first-to-thirds Pierre speaks of, he’s only done so six times, two fewer than the NL average and half as many as the league leader (Rafael Furcal, 13). When it comes to the things that really matter for Pierre — reaching base and advancing — he has done adequately so far. He won’t be nearly as productive next year, but we are quite content giving him credit for everything he’s done in 2012 to this point.

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